Not just a day off: What does Juneteenth mean to me?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kristin S. High
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

For as long as I can remember, my family has celebrated Juneteenth. We would attend barbecues, parades, dances, and a lot of other social events to discuss and acknowledge what the day meant to us. It took me well into my adulthood to realize that many Americans had no idea this day of celebration and liberation even existed, let alone the history behind it.

Below is a personal story of what Juneteenth means to me. The views and opinions do not reflect the thoughts or views of the U.S. Air Force.

I was a military brat growing up. I was the child who had a parent serving in the Navy and we would move so much you tell people, “I’m from all over”. My family, however, is deep-rooted in the south, specifically Texas and Louisiana.

Because of my family’s history, I understood at a very young age what atrocities were happening toward African Americans and what our roots were. When I was six years old, my grandmother taught us children, my brothers, cousins and myself, what to do in case the Ku Klux Klan came to the neighborhood. That was 1993.

During the summer, we would visit my grandparents and they would often split play time with history lessons. I learned a lot about things they excluded from schoolbooks, the darker side of American history, but I also learned a lot about educating those who may be ignorant to that as well.

One of my favorite things to do was going to Cooper Lake to celebrate Juneteenth with a big barbecue and fish fry. My grandmother would show me how to clean the fish and fry it with hot water cornbread and 'all the fixins'. She would answer all of my questions about soul food and our history.

"So what is Juneteenth?," I remember asking with a lisp because my front teeth hadn't grown back yet.


Juneteenth was named for June 19, 1865. It was not the day the enslaved were freed, it was the day the remaining enslaved in South Texas were finally informed, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln ordered it.

On that day, Gen. Gordon Granger announced Gen. Order No. 3, which stated: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free...”

That day, June 19, became a day known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, and even the country's second Independence Day.

The original observances included prayer meetings and the singing of spirituals, and celebrants wore new clothes as a way of representing their newfound freedom. Within a few years, African Americans in other states were celebrating the day as well, making it an annual tradition.

Throughout the decades since, the civil rights movements helped the day gain a bigger following and the first official state-sponsored Juneteenth celebration was held in Texas in 1980.

In the modern era, with social media and known violence toward African Americans, 2020 sparked what seemed to be the largest growth in interest of Juneteenth along with Black and African American civil rights.

George Floyd was killed in May of 2020, causing protests throughout the world. Many used Juneteenth that year as a day of remembrance for him and many other African Americans who were tragically murdered in recent years. When I think of these circumstances, I often think back to my grandmother’s teachings. I remember to teach those who don’t know our true history.

On June 18, 2021, Juneteenth National Independence Day was declared an official federal holiday by President Joe Biden.

From what I was taught growing up to the recent events, I have a newfound perspective of what Juneteenth means to me. It’s a time to celebrate diversity and freedom with family, friends and loved ones. I never thought in my entire life that I would see something like this happen. Seeing something that I hold so close grow from family events to nationwide and even a global celebration is truly special.

I personally believe, as long as people are willing to have conversations, including the bad ones, that we will continue to grow and become better for the future.

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